Redshirt freshman center Joe Thuney got to experience his first taste of college football in the Wolfpack's home opener against South Alabama when he appeared on six snaps with the second-team offense.
That group got in again the next week and saw 18 plays from scrimmage against The Citadel. However, Thuney was pressed into action with the first-team offensive line against Miami last Saturday, and he was glad he had some prior experience to lean on. The center logged 38 snaps in the game after starting guard Zach Allen went down with an injury and starting center Camden Wentz shifted over to guard. Despite missing three starters from opening night, NC State's offensive front performed admirably and paved the way for 224 yards rushing, while they allowed just two sacks against the Hurricanes.
"It went well, it was a lot faster than practice, but I thought I stuck in there pretty well and handled myself pretty well," he said. "It definitely helped getting in the South Alabama and The Citadel games - getting used to it and getting my first snaps in. My teammates on the offensive line helped me out a lot in the Miami game."
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound rookie was aided by the presence of Wentz, who has started each of the past 30 games at the pivot and lined up at right guard against the Hurricanes when Thuney was in the game. On the other side was redshirt junior Duran Christophe, a veteran of 27 games and 14 starts.
"It's great," Thuney explained. "We talk on the plays and talk in the huddle about how we're going to approach each play. We try to execute together, and I think we work together pretty well."
Thuney mentioned Wentz in particular as a big help because he spent all of last year trying to learn from the experienced center during his redshirt season.
"[Redshirting] helped me a lot," he said. "I got bigger, stronger and more acclimated to the game by watching the other guys that are older than me do it."
The youngster came to NC State as a three-star offensive linemen, who had played mostly guard and tackle on the prep level and weighed about 230 pounds. Thuney estimates he has gained 30 pounds since stepping on campus, and is intent on continuing to put on good weight. However, that is just part of what he has had to do to get on the field as a young center.
"It has gone well, I played mostly guard and tackle in high school with a little bit of center, but it wasn't my full position," he said. "Coach [Jim] Bridge has done a great job transitioning me to a center and Cam Wentz has also helped me out a lot. I feel like it's been a smooth transition.
"Just getting the snap down was kind of hard. I wasn't used to having to worry about the snap. Just making sure the snap was secured first, then going to my assignment was the biggest transition. It was a painful transition, but I got there eventually because I took snaps before and after practice."
Thuney is following in the footsteps of a standout lineman from Kettering (Ohio) Archbishop Alter High School, New York Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold. Prep coach Ed Domsitz told The Wolfpacker after Thuney committed to NC State that his young pupil reminded him of Mangold, who he said he sent to Ohio State weighing no more than 250 pounds. Both were two-way standouts in high school that had to put on weight after getting to college.
Now, Thuney is set to test himself against the tough defense line of Florida State. Coach Tom O'Brien said during his Monday press conference that he expects both Thuney and right guard Cameron Fordham to see action against the Seminoles with Allen out with an injury. When Thuney plays, Wentz will shift over the right guard once again, while Fordham will man the post when Wentz is at the pivot.
"I'm just glad I've got the opportunity to go out there," Thuney said. "I've always just prepared like I'm one snap away and I've always got to be ready.
"Florida State is big, fast and physical, but they're blockable. I think if we stick to our fundamentals and work together, we can move the ball. We just have to try to rebuild our momentum against and get back on the right track in the ACC."